The picture shows the Navam Perahera in procession (Pic AFP)
- This procession conducted by Hunupitiya Gangaramaya was originally known as Kolamba Perahera-Pageant of Colombo- presumably because this is the only pageant parading the streets of Colombo
- Gangaramaya Navam perahera comprises a multitude of participants who in unison make the pageant magnificent
The Hunupitiya Gangaramaya Raja Maha Viharaya is of special significance to all of us irrespective of religious or racial differences both as a sacred place of worship in the heart of the capital city of the country and also as an institution providing facilities for youngsters to be useful citizens of the country.
Religious, social, cultural and educational activities
Due to the religious, social, cultural and educational activities undertaken and performed by this temple under the exemplary guidance and direction of the present incumbent of the temple Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara Maha Thera, the popular Podi Hamuduruwo, this temple has gained religious, social, cultural and institutional reputation.
It was during the time of Ven. Devinuwara Sri Jinaratana Nayake Thera that this temple was transformed into a nationally and internationally reputed religious institution. This Nayake Thera, who was a pupil of Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera, was liked by the people and they enabled him to transform an aramaya or a hermitage on a marshy land to a popular place of Buddhist worship with an international reputation. The transformation had taken place within a very short period of time.
Most popular place of Buddhist worship within the Municipal limits of Colombo
Today Gangaramaya is the most popular place of Buddhist worship within the Municipal limits of Colombo. This temple carries the three main features: Sharirika Dhatu (the physical remains of the Enlightened One), Maha Bodhi (the sacred Bo tree) and Buddha Rupa (Images o Buddha). The main features of the temple include Viharaya (main temple), the cetiya (Pagoda) the Bo tree, Vihara Mandiraya, Sima Malakaya and the Relic chamber. The Gangarama Sima Malakaya is unique in its structure being located in the middle of the Beira Lake. This structure is so famous that the whole temple premises is known as the Sima Malakaya.
In addition a museum, a library and a traditional hall, a three storied Pirivena, an educational hall and an alms hall are also in the premises.
The Navam perahera is conducted annually during the month of Navam (February) by Gangaramaya Raja Maha Viharaya in Colombo to illustrate one of the prestigious Buddhist historical events. This procession conducted by Hunupitiya Gangaramaya was originally known as Kolamba Perahera-Pageant of Colombo- presumably because this is the only pageant parading the streets of Colombo. Since this pageant is conducted within the Municipal limits of Colombo tens of thousands of spectators, including a large number of foreign tourists, watch this colourful pageant on the two days it is conducted.
Dhamma Chakka Pavattana Sutta
Originally Kolamba Perahera was conducted in August immediately after the Sri Dalada Maligawa Esala perahera in Kandy; the hill capital. The occasion for conducting this perahera was the commencement of the first sermon of the Buddha – Dhamma Chakka Pavattana Sutta at Isipatana. However, due to the ill health of the incumbent Thera and a number of other reasons the pageant could not be conducted annually.
Origin of Navam Perahera
In place of the former Kolamba Esala perahera an annual pageant is conducted during the month of Navam (February) beginning from 1979 under the state patronage provided by the then Prime Minister, Hon. R. Premadasa. The objects of this perahera were varied. Primarily it is to venerate the Triple Gem- Buddha, His Doctrine, Dhamma and His disciples, Sangha. Another objective is to commemorate te appointment of Arahants Sariputta and Moggallyana by the Blessed One as His chief disciples (Agra Shrawaka). The top most positions in the Order of Maha Sangha were conferred on Arahant Sariputta (Dakunath Sau) and Arahant Moggallyana (Wamath Sau) by the Buddha at the first Congregation on Navam Full Moon Poya day after he Enlightenment.
Gangaramaya Navam perahera comprises a multitude of participants who in unison make the pageant magnificent.
Whip crackers serve a number of purposes. Firstly it is the means of clearing the way for the main pageant. Consequent to the performance of Whip crackers spectators confine themselves to the pavement and leave the road entirely for the pageant to pass without any disruption. Secondly it is a signal that the main pageant is approaching. It is said that even the celestial beings hear this sound which they think is an invitation offering them to watch the pageant. Devotees – young and old- including schoolchildren walk behind them; some carrying flags and banners with others carrying trays of flowers.
Elephants provide a majestic look
Beautifully adorned elephants including tuskers provide majesty and elegance to the procession. The tusker of the temple carries the relic casket on its back. As in the case of Sri Dalada Maligawa Esala Perahera in the hill capital, Kandy, Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya during the Durutu Perahera and Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya Perahera elephants walk elegantly in the Gangaramaya Navam Perahera too.
They are adorned in costumes consist of three parts; the body part, the forehead garland called “Nettimalaya” and the ear ornament called “Kanjoduwa”. Large quantities of padding, rich cloth, velvet, coral etc. are required to make these costumes. Ornaments add to the elegance of elephants that provide majesty to the pageant.
Drama performers in Gangaramaya Raja Maha Viharaya Navam Perahera can be categorised into four groups. There are ordinary dancing teams representing Kandyan dancers, low country dancers and Sabaragamuwa dancers. The world’s oldest and most ubiquitous musical instrument - the drum -is used in all these dancing performances. Various kinds of drums such as the “Getaberaya” ( the drum used in Kandyan dancing), “Magul Beraya” ( the drum used by the royalty, “Yak Beraya” the drum used by devil priests, “Udakkiya “ ( the drum which is small in the middle and “Rabana” Tambourine) are beaten to produce rich and melodious sounds in harmony with the dancers and “Vannam” or songs of the performers. In addition a pair of symbols or “Talampota “also known as “Taitalama” are used in all these dancing performances to keep it in rhythm through the loud ringing sound made when the two symbols are hit together.
The most important group of performers is the group of Hewisi drum players. They produce a drum roar with the large drum ‘Daula’ , the double drum ‘Tammattama’ and the trumpet ‘Horanewa’. Meanwhile, the conch shell blowers produce gentle and prolonged sounds increasing the serenity of the atmosphere. The rhythm of the drum roar suits the rhythm of any other performer of the procession.
Dancers in their costumes look elegant when they move in the procession. They sing ‘Vannams’ while dancing. Vannams are metrical verses sung by dancers to produce lyrical music in their performances. There are eighteen vannams such as “Turanga” (horse) vannama ”Virodi” (Cat’s eye gem) vannama, ” Sayula”(cock) vannama and the most important “Gajaga” (elephant) Vannama. When the performers dance to the tune of the Gajaga vannama they move just like elephants.
A special kind Kandyan dancing is known as ‘Ves Natuma’. These dancers have to undergo training during a long period of time before they are considered qualified to perform this kind of dancing. The performer will be made entitle for ‘Ves’ or a special costume with a beautiful had dress only after being trained well which takes a long period of time.
Panteru dancers form another group of dancing. Every performer has a circular instrument called ‘Panteru’ which produces a clinging sound. This makes the performances melodious..
Boru Kakul Karayo or Stilt walkers produce special colour to the Gangaramaya Navam Perahera. The performers walk high above the ground on two long poles or walking sticks with peddles to rest their feet. They sneer at the spectators from above and provide them with entertainment
The organization of the processions
A significant feature about this pageant is that it is planned and organised in an excellent manner. The pageant parades a number of streets and the main road in front of Gangaramaya Viaraya and along Beira Lake – Navam Mawatha. Seating accommodation is provided for the spectators. The route of the pageant is determined and the places where the Maha Sangha, elephants, dancers, drummers, torch bearers office bearers and others who partake in the pageant are well directed.
The arrangements for the pageant are done by Gangaramaya Temple and the entire organization is handled by young people associated with the temple under the able direction of the chief incumbent of the temple, the most Venerable Galaboda Gnanissara–the popular Podihamuduruwo.